Did you know that penguins sometimes should not swim? - News - Gondwana Collection

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Did you know that penguins sometimes should not swim?

Avatar of inke inke - 02. February 2018 - Environment, Discover Namibia


Dirk Heinrich

Visitors to the coast sometimes find penguins on the beach that seem to be sick and try to put them back into the water. When the little fellows look scruffy and unhappy they are not sick but in moult. A number of these flightless birds are sometimes brought to Swakopmund or Walvis Bay where they eventually make it to Dr Sandra Dantu and in Lüderitz to the rehabilitation centre of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources. In the southern harbour town Dr Jessica Kemper, a penguin expert and researcher is assisting with the care of oiled, injured or underweight African Penguins.

“A number of penguins are neither sick nor injured but are birds that have to stay on shore to moult. They change all their feathers that have become old and worn. They are replaced by new and strong feathers, which is a process that takes about two weeks”, penguin expert Dr Kemper says. A penguin in moult should therefore not swim, because in the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean they would quickly end up suffering from hypothermia, which could be fatal. 

Mainly young birds, who venture northwards from where they were born and raised, are found around Swakopmund and north of the holiday town. Unless these birds are visibly in distress or in danger of being attacked by potential predators, they should be left alone and in peace. Sometimes injured penguins are found on the beach or on the islands off the coast of Namibia. Seals are responsible for a number of bite wounds. 

Last year 58 penguins were rehabilitated in Lüderitz, including sixteen chicks, nine juveniles (younger than two years) and 28 adults. Twenty-eight of the birds were oiled, eleven injured and the rest in a weak state because of lack of food. So far this year nineteen penguins were rehabilitated in Lüderitz, of which two were injured and the rest very skinny and hungry when brought in. In Swakopmund, Dr Sandra Dantu had nine since October, of which one was oiled and died soon after, two had bite marks, two were moulting and the rest were underweight and in bad condition. Last year, 33 African Penguins were treated by Dr Dantu. Six were adults and the rest juveniles and chicks. Four birds were moulting, twelve were injured and had open wounds and the others were underweight and weak. Both ladies are doing the rehabilitation voluntarily and in part rely on sponsors.

The roughly 60 centimetre tall African Penguins only breed on the South African and Namibian coast. Here in Namibia they breed on a few islands and in one cave on the mainland. For many decades, the numbers of African Penguins on our coast have been declining. The main reason is a lack of food. African Penguins are classified as an endangered species. At the moment the Namibian population seems to be stabilising, while the South African population is still shrinking. 

The best place to see them in Namibia is at Halifax Island, either from the mainland shore near Diaz Point close to Lüderitz or by taking a boat tour to the island.

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